Hearing On Sunday Liquor Sales

By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The battle over allowing retail alcohol sales on Sundays resumed at the Connecticut Capitol on Tuesday, pitting the liquor industry and supermarkets who favor the move against package store owners who say an extra day is bad for business.

The General Assembly’s General Law Committee held a public hearing on the latest legislation that would end the practice of forbidding purchases on Sundays. Connecticut is one of three states, including Georgia and Indiana, with such a law on the books.

While the issue is a perennial one at the capitol in Hartford, this year it stands a better chance of passage because Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he’d sign it. Sunday sales also are being touted by supporters as a possible revenue generator for the state, a tempting idea considering the state faces massive budget deficit problems.

Jay Hibbard, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said 14 states since 2002, including neighboring Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, have seen increases in sales tax revenues after allowing retail sales of alcohol on Sundays.

“There’s simply no reason that Connecticut would be any different,” he said.

Carroll Hughes, lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Store Association, dismissed estimated revenue gains from a recent legislative study as flawed. The Program Review and Investigations Committee has said the state could realize $7.5 million to $8 million in additional tax revenue from Sunday sales. Another legislative estimate was $3.6 million.

Hughes questioned whether consumers will buy more alcohol if Sunday sales are allowed in Connecticut. He said it will cost his member stores money because they’ll have to staff their stores for a seventh day. Even though they wouldn’t be required to open, the store owners said they would feel the need to open because of competition, especially from supermarkets that sell beer.

“These stores can’t stay open if we go to $12,000 or $14,000 for that one day,” Hughes said, referring to the estimated cost to keep a liquor store open one more day.

Jim Ransford, who owns Connecticut Beverage Mart, with stores in New Britain and Middletown, said he has a large operation but he still opposes Sunday sales. He said it’s a bad business decision.

“If I felt that being open on Sunday would significantly increase my bottom line, I’d be the first person to promote Sunday sales,” he said.

Hibbard, whose organization represents the Norwalk-based Diageo liquor company, said Sunday sales in Connecticut would provide an added convenience to consumers and help recapture business lost to stores in border states.

“That opens the marketplace to free and fair competition,” he said.
Rep. Kathleen Tallarita, D-Enfield, whose district borders Massachusetts, agreed. She said store owners should have the opportunity to compete with outlets just miles away.

“This is about being fair,” she said. “We’re not saying you have to be open seven days a week.
Representatives of substance-abuse treatment organizations as well as the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage

Drinking voiced opposition to the Sunday sales bill, arguing there are potential negative consequences to allowing greater access to alcohol.

The bill awaits committee action.

Also on Tuesday, the same committee heard testimony on a bill that would allow “gift basket retailers,” such as florists, to sell wine with their baskets. The bill creates a new gift basket retailer license, with a fee of $500. Other bills under consideration would allow local wines to be sold at farmers’ markets and create a Connecticut Beer Trail to promote local brews.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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